Explore the streets of revolutionary Paris as you unravel the millennia-old conflict between Assassins and Templars in one of the bloodier periods of French history!
This is the first Assassin's Creed game to be released well into the 8th generation of gaming, and one that has left many gamers and reviewers with a sweet-sour taste upon launch. It's not surprising that it generated a lot of controversies, for it had the insurmountable challenge of living up to Black Flag's success, Luckily, in 2022, we're finally able to assess the game in its own right.
We should begin with the setting and overall visuals, which I could only praise (save for one little nuisance which I'll uncover later on). Ubisoft's rendition of 18th century Paris was so incredibly well achieved that one has to wonder if the whole game was just an excuse to show off all that graphical power.
Speaking about graphics, they've aged exceptionally well despite being 8 years old (as of this writing). It all may have to do with the diminishing returns we get with each generation of gaming.
Regardless, Assassin's Creed: Unity was an astonishing graphical milestone for its time. The lighting, shadows, reflections, and aesthetics are so breathtakingly beautiful that you'll be flabbergasted to know this game is from 2014. It's a real treat to walk into buildings and see all the detail that was put in each and every corner. Imagine how cool it would look with Ray Tracing on! Sure, you'll get some occasional pop-ups here and there, and the framerate issues on consoles are very palpable, but they're bearable to a degree.
In terms of setting, a heavily-crowded Paris appears compelling from afar, and very realistic. Alas, once you get to the street level, you'll be reminded that this is a video game as character models are reiterated for the 100th time. It doesn't help that you'll be getting amidst crowds quite a lot, especially in the final scenes (which we won't be spoiling). This little detail hampers immersion in a significant way, to the point where I wouldn't care for a graphical downgrade as long as a bit more variety was added to NPC models.
I need to rant a bit more about the crowd because I think they're the real "boss" of the entire game. They will get in the way so often during your playthrough that you'll end up greeting the developers' mothers obsessively. It's a shame, since the Paris cityscape was, otherwise, a marvel to explore and glance over, with each district carefully handcrafted and endowed with its own personality. Sadly, you'll be treading rooftops more frequently out of frustration.
Notwithstanding, under the right conditions, the city does feel alive and immersive. You'll find all possible tropes of that time period, from men smoking pipes and reading newspapers to women mopping sidewalks. There's even your typical newspaper boy! Trust me, the game does have its shining moments here and there, though I would rather sacrifice a bit of NPC count just for the sake of uniqueness in some situations.
But now we get to the ugly side of the review (as if the rant about the crowd wasn't ugly enough!)
The story is, to be frank, somewhat on the bland side, and possibly the game's weakest point.
We do get some competent story writing, involving major historical figures such as Robespierre and Napoleon, and the protagonist - Arno Dorian - has an interesting background. But that's about it. The execution of the whole plot is what really matters in the end, since that is what ultimately makes players emotionally invested in a video game or any other sort of audiovisual material.
While you may expect some shining moments here and there, one can't help feeling a bit underwhelmed when assessing the story's execution as a whole. I, for one, didn't feel too identified with Arno, even as all the drama - including his adoptive father's tragic death and his imprisonment - unfolded. Perhaps under different circumstances, I might have been moved, but it all failed to grasp me on a sentimental level, and I blame the poor execution for this tepidity. Arno was just too predictable and one-dimensional, and his character arc didn't have any nuance or complexity. I missed Edward Kenway (Black Flag's protagonist) even if he came off as a bit of a jerk at the beginning of that game.
With that out of the way, let's get into the gameplay.
View on mobile
As always, you play from a third-person perspective in an open world (which is basically reduced to a compacted version of Paris and its districts). The playable area is exceedingly small when compared to Black Flag's map (which measured approximately 90.2 square miles), spanning roughly 1.06 square miles. It feels like a giant step backward from the previous feat, but, as a result, the areas feel more alive and diverse, which is a nice trade-off (even with the drawbacks that I mentioned earlier).
Also, as is the case with every Assassin's Creed up to this point, you can climb buildings and make your way through rooftops, ropes, shades, and chimneys seamlessly in order to elude guards. One thing to admire in this regard is the improved parkour mechanics. Animations are a bit slower as Ubisoft strived for more "realistic" movesets. Nevertheless, it feels great to parkour in this game and, in my opinion, it has one of the best parkour experiences in the entire franchise.
Creed Points are an incredibly underrated addition. These were rewards earned for certain Assassin actions such as "Air Assassination" or "Breakfall", and could be exchanged for gear upgrades and cosmetics. This was at a time when microtransactions were just about to get ridiculously out of bounds.
Combat is very tactical. You'll be able to take down a whole group of enemies at once and perform certain combos with a variety of weapons, including the oft-forgotten hidden blade. Combat animations are flashy and pretty uplifting, though you'll be witnessing some clunkiness along the way.
Stealth is, perhaps, the game's main gameplay focus, and it shows. Stealth attacks here are some of the most inspiring I've seen in any Assassin's Creed game, and that's an understatement. The "oh, snap!" moments here never manage to get old. You can also throw a variety of bombs, such as cherry and smoke bombs, to either lure, poison, or distract enemies as you proceed to approach them for an opportune strike.
You play most of the game in single-player mode, but the game allows for cooperative multiplayer mode in some instances. It's not a new feature (it was first introduced in Brotherhood) but it has been one of the main marketing ploys prior to and during this game's release. It was mostly nice, but the experience was a bit disjointed during certain missions. "Time anomalies" were an interesting and novel concept though, which transported Arno to different periods of Parisian history, including Nazi occupation during WW2 or the Belle Époque.
Finally, the missions are outstanding and varied, and you'll have tons of side content to dig through. Sandbox assassinations were the game's crowning achievement in terms of quest design, which played like convoluted puzzles to get into heavily fortified areas like a cathedral. You were given a plethora of alternatives for tackling a given mission, and not one mission felt like the other, which is one of the aspects I found largely missing in later games of the saga.
Overall, with all the faults and bugs this game has (which, up to this point in time, have not been fixed!) Assassin's Creed: Unity is a splendid game worth revisiting in 2022 after all the heat has cooled off. I find it a great exercise to review games after a long breather to be able to appreciate them for what they are, without getting steered by the uproar created by mainstream media and popular opinion, and Unity is one of these games that may surprise you after a second try.
Did you find this review useful? Have you tried this game out yet? Give us your thoughts in the commentary box below!